Applying program theory development to a study of restorative

Applying program theory development to a study of restorative practices in
Victorian schools
Restorative justice principles and practices are beginning to consolidate as an area interest and
reform in schools. While there is enthusiasm for a philosophy that focuses on problem solving
and repair of damaged relationships following an incident or crime, this is tempered by
hesitation about how restorative justice works, its impact and how it is measured.
This study investigates the context and conditions in which restorative practices were
introduced in eighteen Victorian schools. Drawing on the literature to identify relevant theories
and assumptions, together with findings from interviews and surveys a draft program theory for
restorative practices in schools was developed. Questions about program interpretation, quality
and delivery were investigated to comment more specifically on the causal links between
program activities and intended outcomes.
The findings from this study show that while the school environment is well suited to introduce
restorative practices this is juxtaposed against a number of challenges. In some schools,
restorative practices represented a fundamental shift in thinking about notions of justice and
discipline. Lack of clarity in program implementation also suggests the need to progress
thinking about the operational factors that contribute to the effective use of restorative
Program theory development has been used successfully as a clarificative evaluation approach
to plan the logical and progressive introduction of similar interventions in other social settings.
The use of program theory development for interventions such as restorative practices is
timely, as higher standards of reporting and accountability for student engagement, retention as
well as student learning are expected from school councils and administrators. This also
comes at a time when the relationship between student well-being and curriculum outcomes is
coming under scrutiny, as teachers and administrators look more closely at discipline regimes.
Gary Shaw